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Ground-breaking new report examines the mental and physical effects of Global Positioning System (GPS) ankle tags on migrants


BID, Medical Justice and the Public Law Project highlight human costs of tagging in the immigration system

Date of Publication:

A new joint report by Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), Medical Justice and the Public Law Project (PLP) comprehensively examines the effects of Global Positioning System (GPS) ankle tags on migrants.

Report coverThe 49-page report, Every Move You Make: The Human Cost of GPS Tagging in the Immigration System, can be downloaded here. It is based on a review of medical-legal assessments written by clinicians concerning the impact of electronic monitoring conducted by Medical Justice, and interviews with 19 of BID's former clients who have been fitted with a GPS tag as part of their immigration bail conditions.

Dr Monish Bhatia, a lecturer in criminology at Birkbeck, University of London, calls the report ground-breaking and says it is the first report of its kind to highlight the impacts of using GPS ankle tags to surveil migrants.

As the report notes, anyone residing in the UK and who is subject to either deportation proceedings or a deportation order may be electronically tagged as part of their immigration bail condition. Home Office data showed that 1,622 Foreign National Offenders on immigration bail were being actively monitored by electronic monitoring as of March 2022.

The report explains: "GPS tags record the location of the wearer at all times using satellite and mobile Technology … GPS tags can collect location data at different intervals and the interval set, for example every 15 minutes or every hour, impacts the amount and granularity of location data that is collected about a wearer. The GPS trail data is stored on Capita EMS' internal servers. It can then be accessed by authorised Home Office staff for wide-ranging purposes, including in the event of immigration bail condition breach or to 'support or rebut' Article 8 claims made by someone who is tagged. In certain circumstances, the Ministry of Justice, Immigration Enforcement and the police can also access the data. The volume of data collected, and the purposes for which the Home Office can use it, goes beyond the purpose of ensuring compliance with immigration bail."

BID, Medical Justice and PLP find that the impact on those being electronically monitored can be severe.

Medical Justice said: "Electronic monitoring carries the potential for significant psychological harm, particularly in a group of people who are already often marginalised and where there is a higher incidence of traumatic experiences and risks for psychiatric illness. Although further information will help to inform the debate, the authors consider it unethical to wait for further evidence of harm and consider that use of electronic monitoring in this particularly vulnerable group of people cannot be justified given the risk of significant harm."

Among the 19 former clients of BID who were interviewed for the report, social stigma associated with electronic monitoring was found to pervade every aspect of daily life. It altered the lives of tag wearers in many ways.

One interviewee said: "I suffer from more attention from the police, I suffer from more scrutiny in public. I've tried to apply for a few jobs and even though the Home Of ice have stated I'm allowed to work and I have all my rights. A few weeks ago, I tried to volunteer at a charity shop, he just looked at my ankle monitor and asked me, "What is that?"... In his mind he already wrote me of . The other job, I had an interview and such but they didn't contact me back because of the tag on my ankle, they just look at that and I suffer from prejudice."

Another interviewee said: "It just makes it uncomfortable because you don't want the whole world out there to know you're on a tag and see your tag. The situation is different because I'm on immigration bail but always people think that if you're on a tag then you've got a criminal offence you know."

Electronic monitoring had a severe impact on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of those interviewed. The report states: "Participants spoke about the different ways that tagging forced them to lead a more isolated life. Some emphasised how the tag interfered with their ability to work or do the activities they are used to, or be a part of society in other ways. Others said it affected their most intimate relationships including the way they raise their children or their relationship with a partner. One participant told us that since he has been tagged his friends have been avoiding him. Participants in our research echoed the findings of Dr Monish Bhatia that tagging is experienced as a form or continuation of imprisonment outside of the prison."

The GPS tags also caused some people to feel physical pain, soreness, itching or burning in the leg. This was due to the weight and bulkiness of the tag, the fact that it is tight or rubs against the skin, or cuts off circulation, and it cannot be removed even temporarily. Several participants commented on the fact that the tag disrupts their sleep, as it can be difficult to fall asleep with the tag attached, or through vibrating or making noise in the middle of the night and waking them up, or cutting off blood circulation.

Writing in the report's foreword, Dr Monish Bhatia said the report "clearly demonstrates that GPS tagging is experienced as a form of psychological torture" and causes "insomnia, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and exacerbation of mental distress."

Dr Kathryn Allinson from Medical Justice said: "The impact of electronic monitoring and the Hostile Environment on our clients is devastating. We are working with some of the most vulnerable people in society, who in many cases have already experienced immense suffering and bear the physical and psychological scars. Instead of the safety, stability and space people need to start rebuilding their lives and recovering from trauma they are treated with suspicion and hostility. By pursuing this policy the UK government is contributing to the harm. We urge them to stop, listen and end this cruel and unnecessary practice."

BID, Medical Justice and PLP recommend an immediate end to the use of GPS tagging for those on immigration bail. The organisations add that to the extent that the current system remains in place, there must be a recognition by the Home Office that GPS electronic tagging conditions constitute a significant interference with people's Article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and that, as such, significant public interest factors are likely to be required to justify GPS tagging.

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian: "As part of our wider plan we launched a 12-month GPS tracking pilot to maintain contact with offenders, deter absconding, breach of bail conditions, and prevent further crimes being committed. Decisions to tag are made on a case-by-basis, which take into consideration the individuals mental and physical health, and every decision to tag someone is reviewed after three months – to suggest otherwise is wrong."